Last year the General Assembly took a huge step in the right direction by reducing the number of SOL tests required for elementary and middle school students. More importantly, these tests, which consist of mostly multiple-choice, recall-style questions, will be replaced by performance-based assessments which will be developed at the local level. These assessments are alternative ways students can display their knowledge of the course material. Performance -based assessments ask students to solve an authentic problem using data and research. Students have to think critically, communicate effectively and defend their answer. This process is far more rigorous than a multiple choice test that measures the content students have memorized.
As SOL reform continues at the state level, with an emphasis on performance-based assessments, we must change our approach to teaching These changes are sparking the debate with educators over the importance of students learning content and concepts, versus developing the critical skills needed in today’s global society to be informed and involved citizens. While knowing facts from subject areas has value, student success beyond school will be measured by how effective they are in pursuing goals and being motivated to do their best.
In Tony Wagner’s book, Most Likely to Succeed, he refers to the model developed in 1893 by the Committee of Ten that was convened to define the purpose of education. The 1893 Model was designed to jump through hoops, cover content, and sort/weed out students. Unfortunately, this model has not changed substantially since 1893 in many schools. Only recently has the conversation turned to the 21st-Century Model that focuses on discovering passions and purpose, developing critical thinking skills and inspiring inquiry in students.
Why are many school divisions just now implementing the changes necessary to prepare students for this 21st century model? The answer is easy--our teachers and principals have been forced to focus on preparing students for content specific multiple choice assessments dictated by previous SOL tests. Teachers will have to adapt to the challenges of implementing performance- based assessments and change their approach to teaching. Instead of focusing on content recall, teachers must create experiences in which students can work collaboratively to solve relevant, real world problems. As they adapt, we will focus leaning more on critical thinking skills which will better prepare our students for all life brings their way. I believe after the initial frustration of change, teachers will release their own creativity and our students will flourish. Albert Einstein said, “The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution.”
In my next blog, I will share the seven survival skills that Tony Wagner has identified in his recent book, The Global Achievement Gap, as the core competencies any young adult needs in order to do well in our dynamic and innovative world.